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Saturday, 26 March 2011 13:59

Broadway Review: PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL

Written by
Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams (l-r) and the Cast Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams (l-r) and the Cast Photo: Joan Marcus

Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is unbelievably gay by both the 1890 Noah Webster definition AND the prevalent 21st century definition.  This musical is absolutely joyous and any concern the producers have tamed the gay element of the production to make it more palatable to a New York audience are soon dispelled.   This show is pure camp and you see exactly what attracted Bette Midler as a co-producer (come to think of it, you don’t get much gayer than Bette Midler, said with all due deference, of course.)

 

Based on the 1994 movie of the same title, this campy new musical is about three drag-queens who go on a road trip in the Outback of Australia. The mission, to unite Tick (aka Mitzi, played with immense heart by Will Swenson, a Tony nominee for Hair) with his young son Benji (Ashton Woerz at the performance I saw) for the first time.  He also gets talked-into taking along two other drag queens to perform at the casino that his wife (yes, his wife) runs.  Along for the ride are Adam (aka Felicia) played by Nick Adams and Bernadette (aka Ralph, much to her dismay). The role of Bernadette, played in the movie by Terrence Stamp, is played by Tony Sheldon who puts his own "stamp" on the role, he is simply wonderful.  I expect that he will receive a justly-deserved Tony nomination for his efforts.  He’s been with the show since its inception in Australia.

 

I should single out a couple of other actors for their marvelous efforts.  J. Elaine Marcos is hilarious as Cynthia, the “entertainer”/mail-order bride of Bob (a very laid-back C. David Johnson).  Her talent is shooting ping-pong-balls out of a certain orifice from the top of the local bar (very tastefully done, BTW).  The zaftig Keala Settle is Shirley the mannish bar keep, also a Swiss tourist in lederhosen and even a man in a trench coat complete with beard and pipe.  Thank heavens they gave this poor girl a sexy entrance during the encore at the end of the show. She worked hard for it.

The modern jukebox musical doesn’t necessarily dictate that the songs drive the plot.  In this case it works in some instances (“A Fine Romance”) and not-so-well in other instances (“I Say a Little Prayer” felt overly sentimental and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” just felt out of place.)  While I would have much preferred to see original music, I understand why they went the direction they did.  The then-current pop music soundtrack of the original movie was such a large part of its mood.  They have replaced some of the songs used in the movie to give the musical a more contemporary feel.  New songs include songs from Madonna, Cindi Lauper, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar and more.

The musical is directed by Simon Phillips with a whimsical air and a fast tempo.  Ross Coleman’s choreography serves the piece well.  Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner have recreated some of their wildly colorful and sequined costumes from the original film while adding a whole slew of shiny new ones.  The piece de resistance is Priscilla (the bus).  It starts out as a bland gray generic bus until it gets some mean, hurtful epithets spray-painted on it as our trio travels to the Outback.  As they paint over the bus it lights up and continues to serve as the colorful central focus of the show’s set.  It spins, opens up and even includes elevators to raise actors through the top of the bus.  Brian Thomson is credited with the design of Priscilla and she’s a wonder to behold.  

The book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott is filled with plenty of zinging one-liners but there isn't much "there" there.

The original movie is in the canon of movies that every self-respecting gay man must have seen if they are to keep their "gay card." I’m happy to say that Priscilla... the musical can also be considered to have met the criteria to be added to the canon of Broadway musicals.  The well deserved standing ovation at the end of the show was almost unanimous and instantaneous.  I loved this show and so did the audience.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: The Palace Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 1564 Broadway New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: February 28, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 20, 2011
  • Closing: Open Ended
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 02:56

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